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McLaughlin, J.T. (2000). The Problem and Place of Physical Contact in Analytic Work: Some Reflections on Handholding in the Analytic Situation. Psychoanal. Inq., 20(1):65-81.
    

(2000). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 20(1):65-81

The Problem and Place of Physical Contact in Analytic Work: Some Reflections on Handholding in the Analytic Situation

James T. McLaughlin, M.D.

PHYSICAL CONTACT OF ANY SORT between patient and therapist in the analytic relationship continues to be an unsettled technical and theoretical dilemma for psychoanalysis. The problem has long been complicated by its implicit linkage to the liabilities of actual physical intimacy, sexual and aggressive, between the analytic pair.

In reminder: between 1911 and 1914 Freud provided a binding technical and theoretical rationale for the analyst to remain detached and unyielding in his objectivity, to stand fast against acting upon libidinal desires for gratification stirred in either party (Freud, 1912pp. 112-114). Above all, both parties were to speak, not act.

This assumed authority of the analyst's superior knowledge was supported by a persuasive theory about what made analysis work. This theory posited, then accepted as a given, that the analyst's consistent frustration of the patient's libidinal impulses was the way to achieve the desired regression of the patient to those earlier psychic states in which crucial pathological formations had been set in place. Only from within this analyst-induced frustration state could the patient truly rework old pathology in the benign presence of the neutrally posed analyst.

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